Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at Rockingham

J.D. McDuffie makes his final start at Rockingham in a Pontiac
sponsored by North Charleston Mustang, March 1990.
PHOTO: Al Steinberg
While J.D. McDuffie never lived to see the Cup Series race in Las Vegas, “The Strip” was a favorite stop for the driver as he steered “Old Blue” from Sanford to the road course in Riverside, California. We’ll cover McDuffie’s career on the road course this summer. In the meantime, this week’s feature will be about another of his favorite stops: North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.

If McDuffie had a favorite track, Rockingham was it. The facility was built near a long-gone dirt track (also called Rockingham) where he raced against the likes of John Sears and Wayne Andrews in an independent racer’s league. Just over one hour’s drive south-west of Sanford – so close that I quite suddenly found myself driving alongside the overgrown parking lot during my drive from Sanford to Darlington last year – it was one of the easiest tracks for McDuffie to get to. It was perhaps the reason his 42 starts there were his most of any track he ever raced in Cup, and why not one of his 32 last-place finishes happened there.

McDuffie didn’t start the inaugural Rockingham race in late 1965, but he did start the second, the Peach Blossom 500, held the following spring on March 13, 1966. McDuffie started last in a daunting 44-car field and climbed his way all the way to 16th, beating such legends as Marvin Panch, Curtis Turner, Wendell Scott, Ned Jarrett, and Bobby Isaac. His best finish there was his third start, the Carolina 500 on June 16, 1968, when he charged from 30th to finish 7th in a race won by Donnie Allison.

As with last week’s feature in Atlanta, Rockingham saw McDuffie drive for a few other car owners. In 1969, he finished 20th for Dr. Don Tarr. In 1971, he finished 14th for car owner Roger Lubinski, his lone start driving for Roger Lubinski, who fielded cars for Brad and Brian Keselowski’s uncle Ron Keselowski. And in 1976, he made a one-off start for Virginian owner-driver Jeff Handy, the 18th and final start for his team, resulting in a 26th-place finish.

McDuffie’s fourth and final Top 10 at Rockingham came on March 28, 1982, during the Warner W. Hodgdon Carolina 500. In a race won by Cale Yarborough, who outlasted Darrell Waltrip for the win, McDuffie once again found his way from a poor qualifying performance, coming from 25th to finish 10th. Even in his later years, he still managed to carve out good finishes there, coming from 34th to 14th in 1983 and 29th to 16th in 1984. His son Jeff also made a pair of starts driving one of his father’s older cars, running 17th in 1980 and 23rd in 1985.

J.D. McDuffie qualified for just two of his final seven Rockingham starts. His final green flag there came on March 4, 1990, in a race dominated by Kyle Petty. Driving an unsponsored #70 Pontiac, McDuffie started 36th and made it 171 laps before handling woes ended his day, leaving him 35th.

While no longer on the circuit, the Rockingham track remains an important part of McDuffie’s history, symbolic of the determination that allowed him to cross four decades of racing.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

CUP: Steering woes knock Gray Gaulding’s BK Racing machine out of the running

PHOTO: @graygaulding
Gray Gaulding picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #23 Earthwater Toyota fell out with steering problems after 99 of 334 laps.

The finish, which came in Gaulding’s 31st series start, was his first of the season and his first since November 5, 2017 at Texas, when the engine on his #83 Earthwater Toyota lost an engine after 159 laps. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 35th for car #23, the 146th for Toyota, and the 21st by reason of a steering issue. Across the top three series, it’s the 64th for car #23, the 294th for Toyota, and the 26th by reason of a steering issue.

On February 9, the night before his 20th birthday, Gaulding was contacted by BK Racing with an offer to make his first start in the Daytona 500. He arrived to the only unsponsored car in the garage area, a plain white #23 Toyota. The team, BK Racing, had last year signed Gaulding along with fellow rookie Corey LaJoie to drive for their two-car operation. Gaulding struggled through the season, averaging just over a 31st-place finish, but survived the fall race at Talladega to bring his battered car home 9th. At Daytona, with returning sponsorship from Earthwater, Gaulding survived again, finishing 20th in the Daytona 500.

Gaulding's car during practice at Atlanta, before being wrapped.
PHOTO: Rubbin's Racin' Forums
It was later announced that Gaulding would continue to drive for BK Racing, both Sunday’s race at Atlanta and beyond. Once again, he arrived to an unsponsored car – this time flat black with a white hood and roof, the teal door numbers practically invisible and the headlight decals placed too low on the front valence. The car was once again re-wrapped in the same Earthwater scheme from Daytona, though this time with the rear TV panel still an undecorated flat black. Gaulding also struggled for speed. He ran 33rd of 35 drivers in Friday’s opening practice, qualified 31st with a lap of 178.269mph (31.099 seconds), then ran 34th in Happy Hour.

Gaulding would join NASCAR’s first 36-car starting lineup since 1996, and the shortest Cup field since 1976. For the first time since the RTA’s controversial Charter program was introduced, no Open teams – including all four that started the Daytona 500 – would fill out the 40-car field. Taking the 36th and final starting spot was XFINITY Series regular Harrison Rhodes, set to make his Cup debut in Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Davis Roofing / ICE Chevrolet. Both Rhodes and defending series champion Martin Truex, Jr. had been unable to turn a lap in qualifying when their cars failed to pass technical inspection.

After a brief rain delay, Rhodes and Truex were joined at the rear by last week’s 500 winner Austin Dillon, who had a new rear gear on his #3 Dow Chevrolet. With one lap to green, Dillon was himself passed for last as three more drivers voluntarily went to the back of the line. First to fall back was Rhodes’ fellow JD Motorsports driver Ross Chastain, returning to the #15 Low T Center Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports (the team’s Chartered team that had also fielded Danica Patrick’s #7 last week). Next came Jeffrey Earnhardt, who welcomed back Daytona sponsor VRX Simulators on Derrike Cope’s #00 Chevrolet. Last was Rhodes himself, who lined up in front of Earnhardt and Chastain with Chastain in 36th.

On the break, Rhodes was split by Chastain up high and Earnhardt down low in a daring three-wide pass. Stuck in the middle, Rhodes throttled back to take last, then went in pursuit of new 35th-place Earnhardt. By Lap 4, Rhodes was closing in on him, following the #00 in the middle lane. On Lap 9, Earnhardt ran high, and Rhodes nearly got by. Rhodes succeeded three laps later with a move down low in Turn 4, dropping Earnhardt to last. By Lap 16, Rhodes had left Earnhardt behind by over two seconds, and Earnhardt’s #00 was already in danger of losing a lap to the closing leaders, then Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch.

Gaulding entered the last-place battle on Lap 17, when he pulled down pit road complaining of a steering issue. The crew worked to diagnose the issue and sent him back out on Lap 23, now five circuits down to the leader. By doing so, Gaulding edged Earnhardt, lapped by the leaders on the 19th circuit, for being the first driver to go down a lap. Earnhardt himself made an unscheduled stop on Lap 30 when his right-front tire came apart, damaging part of his fender. This incident cost Earnhardt three laps, but he was still two circuits ahead of Gaulding.

Gaulding’s handling issues grew worse, forcing a second green-flag stop on Lap 53. Gaulding’s PR feed tweeted that the crew was looking under the dashboard to diagnose the issue. Gaulding returned on the 57th circuit nine laps down, then lost a tenth as he got up to speed. Just past the 100-lap mark, the car was still not handling. Chris Knight reported that Gaulding couldn’t get the car into first gear. Matt Weaver said Gaulding was so unhappy with the car that he was discussing going to the garage. By Lap 110, Gaulding had, in fact, pulled behind the wall, where the crew was still under the hood trying to diagnose a faulty power steering issue. The team’s PR indicated that the crew was also looking over the steering linkage and the steering column, even after the car disappeared from NASCAR’s RaceView on Lap 145. Ultimately, the car never returned to the track, and Gaulding was listed the first out during Stage 3.

Finishing 35th was Trevor Bayne, the day’s only other retiree, after the engine on his #6 AdvoCare 25th Anniversary Ford erupted in a massive plume of white smoke on Lap 298. Jeffrey Earnhardt and Harison Rhodes were the next two in line, finishing under power 20 and 15 laps down, respectively. Rounding out the group was Daytona 500 runner-up Darrell Wallace, Jr., whose #43 NASCAR Racing Experience Chevrolet struck a slowing Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. during the Bayne caution, destroying the left-front fender.

*This marks just the second last-place finish for car #23 in a Cup Series race at Atlanta. The only other time occurred on October 27, 2002, when Hut Stricklin’s #23 Hills Brothers Coffee Dodge fell out with engine trouble after 164 laps of the MBNA America 500. The number’s most recent last-place finish in Cup was July 23, 2017, when Corey LaJoie’s turn in the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota ended with a crash after nine laps of the Brickyard 400.
*Gaulding is the first driver to finish last in a Cup race because of steering issues since Cody Ware in this same race last year.

36) #23-Gray Gaulding / 99 laps / steering
35) #6-Trevor Bayne / 292 laps / engine
34) #00-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 305 laps / running
33) #51-Harrison Rhodes / 310 laps / running
32) #43-Darrell Wallace, Jr. / 319 laps / running

1st) BK Racing, TriStar Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (1)


XFINITY: Jeff Green finishes last for a ninth straight season; Hill and Shepherd surprise in qualifying

PHOTO: Barry Cantrell, LAT Images
Jeff Green picked up the 103rd last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Rinnai 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #38 RSS Racing Chevrolet fell out with a vibration after he completed 5 of 163 laps.

The finish, which came in Green’s 482nd series start, was his first of the season and first in the series since last fall’s Homestead finale, two races ago. In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings, it’s the 13th for car #38, the 495th for Chevrolet, and the 132nd by reason of a vibration. Across the top three series, it’s the 46th for car #38, the 1,577th for Chevrolet, and the 204th by reason of a vibration.

In his return to Rod Sieg’s underdog team RSS Racing, Green enjoyed another fine run on NASCAR’s restrictor-plate tracks. Last week in Daytona, he welcomed new sponsorship from Night Owl Contractors, which ensured that all three of RSS’ Chevrolets – including the #93 of Ryan Sieg and the #39 of J.J. Yeley – would be able to run the full race. Green was running in the lead pack in the final laps, and despite rear bumper damage suffered in a crash, he still recovered to finish 11th, besting Yeley in 18th and Sieg in 21st. It was Green’s third finish of 11th or better in the last five XFINITY plate races.

Atlanta, however, would see Green and his #38 return to the “start-and-park” duty that last year led him to a record-setting 100th series last-place finish and his sixth LASTCAR XFINITY Series title. Records indicate that the Night Owl sponsorship from Daytona didn’t carry over to Saturday. As such, Green did not participate in Friday’s opening practice session, then ran a strong 27th in Happy Hour.

With 42 drivers arriving to contest the 40-car field (following the withdrawal of B.J. McLeod’s #99 Chevrolet), Green matched his 27th-best lap in qualifying with a speed of 174.884mph (31.701 seconds) – more than enough to bump the lone two DNQs of Josh Bilicki (his second-straight DNQ since joining JP Motorsports in the #45 Prevagen Toyota) and owner-driver Mike Harmon in the #74 Shadow Warriors Project Chevrolet.

Two other surprising runs in qualifying belonged to Timmy Hill and Morgan Shepherd. Hill, driving Motorsports Business Management’s old blue Dodge, ranked 29th, recovering from a controversial Daytona where several Cup team’s technical infractions bumped him from the field. Shepherd, who also missed the cut at Daytona, ranked 31st at a track where he’d won three times in Cup. It marked the second-straight time Shepherd didn’t have to rely on Owner Points to start an XFINITY Series race, following his 33rd-place start at Phoenix last fall.

Starting 40th and last on Saturday was Matt Mills, who was moved from JD Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet to the team’s #0. He was joined at the rear by Shepherd, whose team made unapproved adjustments, Ryan Sieg, who changed tires and missed driver intros, and Spencer Gallagher, whose GMS Racing team made unapproved changes. During the opening green-flag stretch, Green fell to the rear and was the first to pull behind the wall, done for the afternoon.

39th went to Cole Custer, who was collected in a three-car accident with John Hunter Nemechek and Elliott Sadler, ending what had been a strong 4th-place start for his #00 Haas Automation Ford. Shepherd ended up 38th, pulling off the track after 49 laps, citing brake trouble. J.J. Yeley, moved to RSS Racing’s #93 as Ryan Sieg returned to the #39, lost an engine after 92 laps, leaving him 37th. Mills rounded out the Bottom Five, finishing under power, but nine laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick.

*This marked Green’s fourth XFINITY last-place run at Atlanta, but the very first at the track for an XFINITY car #38.
*Green has now finished last at least once in the last nine consecutive XFINITY Series seasons.

40) #38-Jeff Green / 5 laps / vibration
39) #00-Cole Custer / 10 laps / crash
38) #89-Morgan Shepherd / 49 laps / brakes
37) #93-J.J. Yeley / 92 laps / engine
36) #0-Matt Mills / 154 laps / running

1st) Roush-Fenway Racing, RSS Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (1)


TRUCKS: Scott Stenzel picks up first last-place finish in nearly four years

Stenzel's truck (left) on the grid before the race.
PHOTO: @BenKennedy33
Scott Stenzel picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Saturday’s Active Pest Control 200 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #83 Chevrolet failed to complete any of the 134 laps due to electrical issues.

The finish, which came in Stenzel’s 12th series start, was his first of the season and his first in a Truck Series race since May 9, 2014 during the SFP 250 at Kansas, where his #36 Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool Chevrolet also failed to complete a single lap due to electrical issues. In the LASTCAR Truck Series rankings, it’s the fourth for truck #83, the 345th for Chevrolet, and the 31st by reason of electrical issue. Across the top three series, it’s the 29th for #83, the 1,578th for Chevrolet, and the 110th by reason of an electrical issue.

On February 6, the Minnesota dirt tracker announced that he had signed with D.J. Copp’s Truck Series team Copp Motorsports, part of a new team partnership with E2 Northeast Motorsports. Stenzel would be returning to the Truck Series for the first time since 2014, when he ran seven races for the famous Mittler Brothers team with a season-best 22nd at Talladega. Carrying sponsorship from E2, Stenzel made his way into the Daytona field, putting Copp’s #83 31st on the grid and finishing a new career-best 15th.

A picture tweeted by Truck Series alum Ben Kennedy on Saturday revealed that Stenzel’s truck for Atlanta had a simpler look, replacing the vibrant black-and-blue colors from Daytona with a simple white Chevrolet. Sponsorship came from, which also backed David Ragan’s #38 on the Cup side. After skipping the opening practice session, Stenzel ranked 28th of 31 drivers in Happy Hour, then squeezed his way into the field on Owner Points despite not turning a lap in time trials. He would start 32nd, shotgun on the field.

Two drivers were sent home after qualifying. The first was Daytona last-placer Travis Kvapil, whose #50 Motorsports Safety Group / Clyde May’s Chevrolet also didn’t turn a lap in qualifying. Tim Viens was also unable to turn a fast enough lap when he was tabbed to drive in place of Mike Harmon in Harmon’s #74 Chevrolet. Harmon’s own XFINTY Series car had also missed the cut for the race run earlier that day.

Kennedy’s picture of Stenzel’s truck was taken immediately prior to the start of the race, showing the #83 lined up at the end of the field. However, according to MRN Radio, the truck never turned a lap in the race, and was instead pushed behind the wall at the start, citing electrical issues. Thus, Stenzel ended up taking his second last-place finish uncontested.

The battle for 31st was briefly intense. Both Clay Greenfield in TJL Motorsports’ #1 (carrying the sponsorship from Viens’ DNQ’d #74) and Jordan Anderson in his own #3 Bommarito / Lucas Oil Chevrolet had been sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Both Greenfield and Anderson passed Robby Lyons’ #15 Troptions Chevrolet on the first lap, then Lyons moved past Joey Gase at the end of the second circuit, not long before Norm Benning spun his #6 Zomongo / H&H Transport Chevrolet for the first yellow. Gase, driving Jennifer Jo Cobb’s unsponsored white #0 Chevrolet, re-took 31st from Benning on Lap 7 as he pulled down pit road. The crew looked under the hood, then pushed Gase’s truck behind the wall, securing 31st.

30th fell to Akinori Ogata, who left with crash damage to Mike Mittler’s #63 Nisshinbo Chevrolet. 29th went to Benning, who made it 108 laps before a vibration ended his run. Rounding out the group was Greenfield. One week after his strong qualifying run and race at Daytona, Greenfield was flagged off the track for running too slow.

*This marked the second-consecutive time that the #83 has finished last in the Truck Series race at Atlanta, following Todd Peck’s early overheating issues last year (LINK). These are the two most recent last-place finishes for the number in the series.
*Stenzel is the 25th consecutive Chevrolet to finish last in a Truck Series race and the eighth out of the last 11 last-place finishers to fail to complete a single lap.

32) #83-Scott Stenzel / 0 laps / electrical
31) #0-Joey Gase / 7 laps / electrical
30) #63-Akinori Ogata / 62 laps / crash
29) #6-Norm Bennin / 108 laps / vibration
28) #1-Clay Greenfield / 116 laps / too slow

1st) Beaver Motorsports, Copp Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)


Friday, February 23, 2018

PREVIEW: Without Open teams at Atlanta, track sees shortest Cup field since 1976

Jack Donohue loses an engine at Atlanta, 1976
PHOTO: Historical Stock Car Racing Forum
Saturday, February 24, 2018
TRUCKS Race 2 of 23
Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Todd Peck

There are 34 trucks entered for 32 spots, down four trucks from last week’s race in Daytona. Two trucks will miss the show.

RETURNING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
After her hard crash last week in Daytona, Jennifer Jo Cobb has entered her second truck, the #0, for the first time since last fall at Homestead. The driver is Joey Gase, who despite his developing Cup and XFINITY career has never started a Truck Series race. He was entered in the Cobb truck last year at Kentucky, again in the #0, but was withdrawn. It's as yet unclear whether this team will be a "start-and-park," as it has been used in the past.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-TJL Motorsports
One week after B.J. McLeod failed to qualify as a last-minute replacement for J.J. Yeley, TJL Motorsports has selected another driver to be announced. UPDATE: Clay Greenfield became the driver on Friday, one week after hos strong qualifying run at Daytona.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #3-Jordan Anderson Racing
Jordan Anderson saved his Toyota from disastwr when he spun to safety across the finish line. Nevertheless, he's driving a Chevrolet this weekend.

DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Young's Motorsports
UPDATE: Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon takes the controls of Young's #20 this weekend, replacing Scott Lagasse, Jr. According to Bob Pockrass, the majority of this truck's season will go to development driver Tanner Thorson.

CLOSED: #28-FDNY Racing
Bryan Dauzat threatened for a Top 10 finish last week in Daytona, only to be involved in a late-race accident that left him 18th. With that, Jim Rosenblum’s Truck Series team has closed its doors after 53 series starts. T.J. Clark picked up their best series finish at Phoenix in 1996, coming home 12th.

MISSING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Chris Fontaine’s electrical issues left him 29th at Daytona, and his next start will likely be Talladega, as it has in all but one year since 2013.

DRIVER CHANGE: #63-MB Motorsports
In place of ARCA veteran Bobby Gerhart, who failed to qualify at Daytona, Mike Mittler brings back Akinori Ogata of Japan to attempt his seventh series start. Ogata finished 30th in this race last year for Beaver Motorsports.

MISSING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
A sterling 3rd-place qualifying run in the #PleaseStand Chevrolet ended with a brutal crash in the final 20 laps of Friday’s race, leaving him a disappointing 22nd. The team isn’t entered this week, their return to be announced. UPDATE: Greenfield is driving TJL's #1 truck.

DRIVER CHANGE: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
Mike Harmon returns to the controls of his own #74 Chevrolet, one week after Cody Ware failed to qualify at Daytona.

MISSING: #87-NEMCO Motorsports
NEMCO Motorsports scaled back from two trucks at Daytona to just one this week, parking the #87 that Joe Nemechek drove to a spirited 3rd-place finish last week. The reason for the reduction is John Hunter Nemechek will make his first XFINITY start of the season in Ganassi’s #42 Chevrolet. Joe will take the controls of John Hunter’s #8 on Friday.

RETURNING: #97-JJL Motorsports
After a successful limited schedule in 2017, it was announced January 22 that Chad Little’s son Jesse will run more races this year, starting this week. In place of last year’s black Toyota, the team will run a blue Ford sponsored by JJL Marketing Developments. The team debuted their new website on February 13.

CUP INVADERS: #4-Kyle Busch

Saturday, February 24, 2018
XFINITY Race 2 of 33
Rinnai 250 at Atlanta
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Blake Koch

There are 43 cars entered for 40 spots, down three from Daytona. Three cars will miss the show. UPDATE: Make that 42 with the withdrawal of the McLeod #99 on Friday.

DRIVER CHANGE: #0-JD Motorsports
DRIVER CHANGE: #15-JD Motorsports
After Joe Nemechek turned heads with a strong run at Daytona, and Matt Mills was originally reported to drive the #15 this weekend at Atlanta, the entry list now indicates that Mills will swap rides with Garrett Smithley, putting Mills in the #0 and Smithley in the #15.

DRIVER CHANGE: #8-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
Tommy Joe Martins was at the Daytona 500 last week in the Go FAS Racing pits, and this week makes his first XFINITY start of the season, taking the place of Caesar Bacarella in the #8. Martins made nine series starts last year with a season-best 11th at Iowa.

RETURNING: #12-Penske Racing
Following a disappointing last-place finish at Daytona with Roush-Fenway, Austin Cindric begins his split-season with Penske Racing in the #12 sponsored by Fitzgerald Glider Kits. It promises to be the first XFINITY start for Penske’s #12 since Sam Hornish, Jr.’s runner-up performance at Charlotte last fall.

DRIVER CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
In place of Cup regular Daniel Suarez, who drove the car at Daytona, K&N Pro Series upstart Kyle Benjamin returns to action. In a five-race stint for Gibbs last year, Benjamin took the pole at Pocono and Kentucky and finished a season-best runner-up to teammate Ryan Preece at Iowa. Preece is not entered this week as Brandon Jones and Christopher Bell continue their full-time efforts in the #19 and #20.

MISSING: #25-ACG Racing
Chris Cockrum came up just short of a starting spot in last Saturday’s race, and Jeff Spraker’s team isn’t entered this weekend.

J.J. Yeley and Ryan Sieg swap rides from Daytona with Yeley now in the #93 and Sieg in the #39. Jeff Green remains in the third RSS car, the #38 Chevrolet.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
The XFINITY Series debut of John Hunter Nemechek is on schedule for this weekend as he takes the place of Kyle Larson in Ganassi’s #42 Chevrolet, sponsored by NEMCO backer Fire Alarm Systems. Nemechek won the Truck Series race at Atlanta two years ago.

MISSING: #54-NXT Motorsports
One week after their rear gear issue at Daytona with Gray Gaulding driving, NXT Motorsports has not entered their #54 Toyota.

DRIVER CHANGE: #60-Roush-Fenway Racing
Taking the controls of the #60 this week is Chase Briscoe, who makes his XFINITY Series debut in an unsponsored Ford. Briscoe finished 25th in the Truck Series race here last year for Brad Keselowski Racing.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
After he was bumped from the Daytona field at the last moment, Timmy Hill returns with a blue Dodge in place of last week's white Toyota

DRIVER CHANGE: #78-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
An overtime tangle with Kyle Larson ended Ryan Ellis’ return to action last Saturday, leaving him 30th in the final running order. Team owner B.J. McLeod takes over the controls while Tommy Joe Martins drives his #8 Chevrolet.

MISSING: #86-Brandonbilt Motorsports
Brandon Brown showed speed last week in Daytona, but his family’s team has elected not to enter Atlanta following their involvement in last week’s backstretch pileup.

MISSING: #88-JR Motorsports
JR Motorsports drops from five teams to four this weekend, leaving out the #88 that Chase Elliott drove to a 12th-place finish.

WITHDREW: #99-B.J. McLeod Motorsports
After Ray Black, Jr. wound up the fastest driver to miss the cut last week in Daytona, McLeod was originally going to enter the #99 - UPDATE: but withdrew on Friday without assigning a driver.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Ty Dillon, #22-Joey Logano, #98-Kevin Harvick

Sunday, February 25, 2018
CUP Race 2 of 36
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Cody Ware

There are just 36 cars entered for 40 spots as, for the first time in series history, all four Open teams are unused, leaving only the 36 Chartered entries. Just seven times before have that few cars started a Cup race at Atlanta, most recently on November 7, 1976, when Jack Donohue’s engine let go on the first lap.

DRIVER & NUMBER CHANGE: #15-Premium Motorsports
After being used for Danica Patrick’s final start and being entered as car #7, Premium Motorsports’ Chartered entry returns to car #15, the same number it obtained last year from the shuttered HScott Motorsports. Their driver is Ross Chastain, who had an impressive Cup debut at Dover last year, but was withdrawn from what would have been his most recent attempt last fall at Homestead.

STILL THERE: #23-BK Racing
The 36 Chartered teams entered includes BK Racing as they begin to reorganize their program following last Thursday’s judgment. Gray Gaulding returns to drive this weekend, but the car may again arrive without a sponsor as none has yet been announced.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
On the heels of his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, Darrell Wallace, Jr. has picked up sponsorship from the NASCAR Racing Experience. Associate sponsorship arrived Tuesday from Ohio-based E.E. Ward Moving & Storage, at 137 years the oldest African-American-owned business still operating in the United States.

DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
After a strong 12th-place finish by Justin Marks in the Daytona 500, XFINITY Series regular Harrison Rhodes is scheduled to make his Cup Series debut in the #51 Chevrolet. Rhodes, who has not run since last season's XFINITY finale at Homestead, has three Atlanta XFINITY starts with a best finish of 24th.

MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
MISSING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
MISSING: #92-Ricky Benton Racing
MISSING: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
All four Open teams from the Daytona 500 are not entered. According to Brendan Gaughan himself, Beard Motorsports’ #62 will return at Talladega, continuing their exclusive focus on the plate tracks. The same is likely to happen with the Gaunt Brothers’ #96, which did so in the first two plate races last year. The next starts for MBM’s #66 and Benton’s #92 are, as yet, unknown. David Gilliland, who finished 14th with Benton in the 500, has indicated he may be done running Cup to focus on son Todd's efforts.

DRIVER CHANGE: #72-TriStar Motorsports
Following Corey LaJoie's disappointing last-place finish in the Daytona 500, Cole Whitt's split season with LaJoie begins this weekend. Whitt, who ran full-time for TriStar last year, finished 20th in this race in 2017, his fourth-best finish of the entire season.

Ever wonder who Jack Zink is, the guy who’s at the very bottom of the LASTCAR rankings? Born on October 17, 1928, Zink was an engineer and racing enthusiast, most notably his family’s efforts at the Indianapolis 500. His lone recorded Cup start came at his home track, a half-mile dirt oval in Oklahoma City, on August 3, 1956. Driving his own 1956 Pontiac, car #88, Zink started 7th in a field of 12, but overheated after just 10 laps to score his lone last-place finish. Zink entered the next race, to be run the following day on a track in Tulsa, but the event was cancelled due to terrible track conditions. At the time the race was cancelled on Lap 34 of 200, Zink had already crashed out, finishing third-from last in his #88. Since the race was cancelled, neither Zink’s start nor Bill Moore’s last-place run are officially recorded. Zink passed away in 2005.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Atlanta Motor Speedway

J.D. at Atlanta, 1976
SOURCE: Historical Stock Car Racing Forum
J.D. McDuffie made 31 starts at what is now the Atlanta Motor Speedway, including five on the track before it was expanded from 1.5 miles to the 1.522-mile length it held from 1970 through the first part of 1997.

McDuffie’s first Atlanta start came on August 7, 1966 during the Dixie 400, just the 15th race ever run at the track. Competing in his second Cup season, McDuffie was driving one of twelve Fords on the grid, and rolled out last in the 42-car field. In a season where Ford had boycotted the sport when their 427 engine was banned, independents like McDuffie benefitted as the lone standard bearers in place of the factory efforts. On this day, he climbed to 22nd before the transmission let go.

McDuffie failed to finish half of his Atlanta starts – 16 of 31 – but only once finished last. That came in his second Atlanta start on August 4, 1968, when his 1967 Buick fell out with a vibration after four laps.

Throughout his career, McDuffie rarely drove for other teams. Atlanta on August 2, 1970 was one of those occasions. During the Dixie 500, McDuffie joined up with Georgia driver Ken Spikes, who had been fielding a part-time effort for the last six years. He climbed aboard a #16 Chevrolet sponsored by Crane Cams, but turned just 30 laps before a vibration ended his run. It would be the only time all season that he didn’t run his own #70, and his only start that year in a Chevrolet.

McDuffie’s best Atlanta finish came on July 22, 1973, when his Chevrolet finished 7th, 11 laps down to David Pearson. His only other Top Ten came eight years later on March 16, 1980, rallying from 32nd to finish 9th, four laps down. Dale Earnhardt won that day over a Roger Penske-prepared Chevrolet whose driver, Rusty Wallace, was making his first Cup start.

Over the last decade of his career, McDuffie never finished better than 23rd at Atlanta, failing to finish seven of his last eight starts there. He missed both races there in 1984 and 1986, then made his final start there on March 15, 1987. In a race won by Ricky Rudd, driving for the late Bud Moore, McDuffie started 41st in the 42-car field and finished 40th, out with engine trouble after just 16 laps.

One of McDuffie’s last recorded attempts to make the Atlanta field came in March 1990, when qualifying was rained-out. McDuffie was sent home along with A.J. Foyt and Greg Sacks. Sacks was driving one of the cars fielded by Rick Hendrick for “Days of Thunder,” painted like Tom Cruise’s pink-and-white #46 Superflo Chevrolet.

Monday, February 19, 2018

OPINION: FOX dropped the ball in filling the void left by retired stars

Your 12th-place finisher yesterday.
Yesterday, in FOX’s lead-up to the Daytona 500, Charlize Theron introduced the starting lineup to Sunday’s race. It was terrible. The fault’s not Theron’s – she was merely delivering the lines she was given. It goes back to FOX itself, a network which let a tremendous opportunity pass by.

This is a critical season for NASCAR. The biggest names of the last two decades are all gone, including Dale Jr., Edwards, Stewart, Kenseth, Gordon, and now Danica. The sport and its teams have responded by advancing several young stars into top-flite, ready-to-win rides. So many, in fact, that young guns from a decade ago like Logano, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch are now the old guard against the likes of Blaney, Byron, and Wallace. The result is the youngest, healthiest field in decades, which in spite of the Charter system’s effect on overall depth, still has the very real potential of producing some of the best competition in years.

But all this is utterly meaningless if the media fails to inform the audience about who these people are, and why we should care about them. And this is where Sunday’s starting lineup comes in.

FOX had the opportunity – no – the responsibility to calm the concerns of old fans of retired drivers and attract the interest of people who had no understanding of the sport. This is actually much easier than it sounds because both groups are on equal footing: they both need to be given a reason to watch. The simplest and best way to do this isn’t some misleading ad campaign, but just take the time to tell us about each and every one of the forty starters. Not just Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch – everyone. Make a case why you should cheer for each and every person climbing behind the wheel. Tell us something interesting about each one of them, like the fact that Jeffrey Earnhardt is driving for the guy who beat his grandfather in the 500 in 1990. Or that a 66-year-old Mark Thompson is making just his second start since 1992.

Did FOX do this? No. In fact, their starting lineup didn’t even mention most of the field by name. And those who were named, we hardly learned anything about them. The more it played, the more I got the impression that whoever was in charge of the segment – whether the production team or its on-air talent – didn’t do their homework over the offseason. As I wrote in my article last year about the “Junior Singularity,” this was a trap that was waiting for them. With a fan favorite gone and no clear successor, you can’t just talk about the big names who are left. You need to talk about everyone because anyone can become the next Junior. FOX’s failure to prepare for this was completely avoidable and inexcusable.

The effect of FOX’s failure was felt through the rest of the broadcast as, once again, only a small circle of drivers received any real attention. This was particularly noticeable with each field-clearing wreck, as each brought a new group of drivers into contention, but few new stories. To his credit, Mike Joy has continued to keep an eye on small teams exceeding expectations, as he did with Brendan Gaughan and Matt DiBenedetto in the final stages. However, the task is too much for Joy alone. Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon were no help, choosing once again to simply react to things happening rather than reporting on developing stories. This problem is by no means limited to FOX as NBC’s group is just as guilty. Consider “throwback weekend” at Darlington, and how few of those paint schemes you actually saw during the race.

I do believe there’s time to right the ship, but only if immediate action is taken. The production staff needs to put more effort on producing driver profiles and, during the race, help the booth stay appraised of stories they may be missing. The announcers need to each take on different roles in the booth, focusing on a different aspect of the action, and stick to it. In doing so, they need to stop reacting and start reporting. The overall tone of the broadcasts needs to be turned away from entertaining the audience to informing them. Cars going around the track is entertaining enough – your job is to tell us there’s more going on. The result will be a leaner, more enjoyable, and more successful broadcast for all involved.

This isn’t asking too much. As I’ve said in the past, we should demand more of professionals, and not let them rest on their laurels. Because if we don’t, we will not only miss out on key moments in one of NASCAR’s most important seasons, but miss out on the chance to capitalize on them.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

CUP: Corey LaJoie arrives late, leaves early in first Camaro to finish last in Cup since 1971

Corey LaJoie picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s 60th Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after he completed 8 of 207 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 35th series start, was his first since last July at Indianapolis, sixteen races ago. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 13th for #72, the 738th for Chevrolet, and the 676th by reason of engine failure. Across the top three series, it’s the 28th for #72, the 1,576th for Chevrolet, and the 1,050th by reason of engine failure.

At this time last year, LaJoie was embarking on his rookie season, making his first Cup start since a two-race stint with Humphrey-Smith Motorsports in 2014. Driving the #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota from BK Racing, LaJoie didn’t make friends early, wrecking Reed Sorenson in his Duel to transfer into his first Daytona 500. A crash coming onto pit road led to a 24th-place finish, and a difficult freshman campaign. Other than an 11th-place finish in his return to Daytona in July, he never again finished inside the Top 20.

While BK Racing filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past Thursday, ultimately fielding just one of their two Toyotas in the Daytona 500, LaJoie had already made the move to another team. He tweeted in January that he would be driving a Chevrolet, but it wasn’t until just days before SpeedWeeks that he was announced as the driver for TriStar Motorsports, sharing the ride with 2017 driver Cole Whitt. The Daytona car would carry sponsorship from Schluter Systems, which backed BK Racing in a number of races last year.

SpeedWeeks 2018 began on a rough note when TriStar Motorsports’ hauler didn’t arrive in time for sign-in day on February 9. Faced with a cut-off time of the next morning, the truck arrived in the middle of the night, ensuring that exactly 40 cars would fill the 40-car field. Without the need to race his way in, LaJoie turned the slowest lap in opening practice, then 38th and 16th in the next two sessions, skipped the fourth, and ran slowest of the 25 in Happy Hour. In between, he turned the first lap in qualifying – slowest of those completed at 186.058mph (48.372 seconds). He also ran a conservative race in Duel Race 2, finishing two laps down in 16th of the 20-car field. This secured him the 32nd spot on the 500 grid.

Starting last on Sunday was 66-year-old Mark Thompson, who was driving a former Richard Petty Motorsports Ford purchased by Carl Long’s team, Motorsports Business Management. The #66 Ford, sponsored by Thompson’s aeronautics company Phoenix Air, had computer issues early on. As the car warmed up on the grid, it didn’t report the water pressure. In the race, a cord had pinned down the antenna, causing interference on the radio. When asked to move the cord, Thompson replied “I’m afraid to touch anything.”

Making just his second Cup start since 1992, Thompson ran side-by-side with David Gilliland in the other former Petty Ford (now a backup #92 Black’s Tire Ford for Ricky Benton Racing). Gilliland got the advantage down the backstretch, and the crew instructed Thompson to follow in his tire tracks. Thompson attempted this, but by the second lap had already lost touch with the pack, more than 1.4 seconds behind the 39th-place car. Thompson was still bringing up the rear, and running by himself, when the first caution of the afternoon flew.

LaJoie was himself running near the back of the pack when his car started trailing smoke, forcing him to pull down to the apron. Under the ensuing yellow, LaJoie managed to drive his own car behind the wall, and the team brought out the generator to see what was going on beneath the hood. He was the first driver to lose a lap to the leaders. On Lap 11, someone on the crew said “We’re done,” and the team packed up, the first car done for the day.

The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by the first of three multi-car accidents on Lap 60. A blocking Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. narrowly saved his #17 Fastenal Ford entering Turn 3, but set up a four-wide logjam at the front of the pack. Contact between Kyle Larson’s #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet and Erik Jones’ #20 DeWalt Toyota triggered a seven-car pileup. Receiving the most significant damage were Jones, the #19 Arris Toyota of Daniel Suarez, the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson (his third wreck of SpeedWeeks), and the #13 GEICO Chevrolet of Ty Dillon. All four fell to the Bottom Five under the ensuing yellow.

Mark Thompson lost the first of four laps on the 25th circuit to finish 22nd, the best finish of his Cup career. His was the one of many intriguing storylines.

Locked in a side-by-side battle with Denny Hamlin was rookie Darrell Wallace, Jr., whose runner-up finish was the best by the #43 in the Daytona 500 since Richard Petty ran 3rd in 1987 (which itself was its best finish since Petty’s seventh win in 1981).

Chris Buescher finished 5th, his best run since he ran 5th in the Bristol night race in 2015.

Michael McDowell ran 9th in his first start for Front Row Motorsports, his second-straight Top 10 at Daytona.

Justin Marks finished a career-best 12th in his and Rick Ware Racing’s first Daytona 500.

David Gilliland gave Ricky Benton a strong debut of his own, steering the #92 Ford to a 14th-place finish.

Gray Gaulding and the bankrupt BK Racing team finished 20th, their second-straight Top 20 at Daytona and Gaulding’s second-straight Top 20 on the plate tracks.

And Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose StarCom Racing team finished no better than 32nd in its two previous starts, earned a 21st-place finish, five positions better than Earnhardt ran in last year’s 500.

*This marked the first Cup Series last-place finish for car #72 since November 12, 2006, when Brandon Whitt’s #72 Dutch Quality Stone Chevrolet broke the rear end after 123 laps of the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix. The number had never before finished last in a Cup race at Daytona.
*It’s the first Cup Series last-place run for TriStar Motorsports since July 14, 2013, when Mike Bliss’ #19 Humphrey-Smith Racing Toyota (then co-owned by Randy Humphrey) left with rear gear issues after 75 of 302 laps of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire. The team had never before finished last in a Cup race at Daytona.

*This marked the first last-place finish for a Chevrolet Camaro in a Cup Series points race since August 28, 1971. That day, during the Buddy Shuman 276 at the Hickory Speedway, was the last Cup race held at the third-mile oval in North Carolina. That day, Camaros were distinguished from other Chevrolets in the field as the race featured a mix of full-sized machines and smaller “pony cars,” including Mustangs and Javelins. Taking last was Dick Brooks, who started the year driving for Mario Rossi’s Dodge team. When Rossi stopped entering cars earlier that month, Brooks took the wheel of a 1969 Camaro, one of three in the field. Brooks’ #95 qualified 15th, but turned just 30 laps before overheating issues ended his race. While the second Camaro of Randy Hutchison also exited early with an oil leak, the third, driven by Tiny Lund, took the win by nearly a lap over Elmo Langley.

40) #72-Corey LaJoie / 8 laps / engine
39) #13-Ty Dillon / 59 laps / crash
38) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 59 laps / crash
37) #19-Daniel Suarez / 59 laps / crash
36) #20-Erik Jones / 59 laps / crash / led 10 laps

1st) TriStar Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


XFINITY: Austin Cindric’s ill-handling Ford triggers first wreck at Daytona

PHOTO: Fox Sports 1
Austin Cindric picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s PowerShares QQQ 300 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #60 Pirtek Ford was involved in a multi-car accident after 10 of 143 laps. The finish came in Cindric’s second series start.

In the LASTCAR XFINITY Series rankings, it’s the 11th for #60, the 153rd for Ford, and the 312th by reason of a crash. Across the top three series, it’s the 32nd for #60, the 934th for Ford, and the 1,129th by reason of a crash.

The son of Team Penske president and IndyCar team strategist Tim Cindric, Austin Cindric made his way into NASCAR by way of the ARCA Racing Series and the Camping World Truck Series in 2015. Just 16 at the time, Cindric finished 4th in his ARCA debut at Iowa and 25th in Trucks at Martinsville. His truck ride was with Brad Keselowski Racing, the top Ford team on the circuit. He went full-time Truck racing last year, which turned out to be BKR’s last year in operation. Cindric broke through with a controversial win at Mosport in September when he spun Kaz Grala from the lead on the final lap.

This year, Cindric landed a ride in Roush-Fenway’s fleet #60 Ford Mustang, sharing the ride with Ty Majeski and Chase Briscoe. Cindric landed the ride for Daytona with Pirtek, his sponsor with BKR at Kansas last year. It would be his first XFINITY Series start since a one-off in Penske’s #22 last year at Road America. He started on the pole that day and finished 16th in a race won by underdog Jeremy Clements.

At Daytona, Cindric ran seventh in Friday’s opening practice and didn’t participate in Happy Hour. He ran 11th in Round 1 of qualifying, and 11th again in Round 2 with a lap of 186.768mph (48.188 seconds), besting Elliott Sadler, who didn’t turn a lap in that second round due to overheating issues. Cindric was then moved to 10th on the grid when 3rd-place starter Matt Tifft’s time was disallowed, forcing Tifft to take a provisional in 39th. With Tifft now driving for Richard Childress Racing, which had a high ranking in Owner Points, this triggered a last-minute shuffle at the back of the lineup.

Starting 40th was Josh Williams, who also failed post-qualifying inspection after his #90 Star Tron Star Brite / Stay Sky Hotel Chevrolet from DGM Racing ran 27th in Round 1. He took the last spot from Cup regular Austin Dillon, who (along with Mike Harmon in his #74 Shadow Warrior Project Dodge) didn’t turn a lap in Round 1. Combined with the penalized Matt Tifft, this bumped out Timmy Hill, who was originally in on Owner Points, set to start 36th in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota. The glut of Cup teams in the Bottom Five bumped Hill out based on his Owner Point ranking, and then his speed. His spot in the field ended up going to NXT Motorsports’ Gray Gaulding, whose #54 VSI Racing Toyota was originally the fastest car to miss the show. Hill ended up sent home along with Ray Black, Jr., Chris Cockrum, Morgan Shepherd, Josh Bilicki, and Mike Harmon, who had already DNQ’d.

According to RacingUnderdogs, Gaulding’s #54 was just coming off pit road before the start of Saturday’s race. He trailed the field by 4.570 seconds on the first lap. By Lap 3, J.J. Yeley had taken the spot in RSS Racing’s #39 Superior Essex Chevrolet. From there, Yeley began to lose touch with the lead pack. He was 3.337 seconds back of the next car on Lap 5, 5.557 back on Lap 6, and 11.616 on Lap 9. On the 11th circuit, he was still running in 40th, less than four seconds away from losing a lap, when trouble broke out up front. Josh Williams, the last-place starter, had charged his way up to 12th in the first 10 laps.

Cindric’s #60 Ford appeared to be running loose in the opening laps, and by the 11th lap, he was stuck in the middle lane of a tight battle in Turn 4. Running seventh with Daniel Suarez to his outside and Tyler Reddick to his inside, Cindric slid into Suarez twice coming off the corner. The second hit knocked him to door of Reddick, and he slammed the wall directly in front of Suarez’s two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Brandon Jones, driving the #19 Juniper Networks Toyota, ended up with the right-front of his splitter bent up. Next to be hit was Christopher Bell, trying to pass Cindric to the inside in the #20 Rheem Toyota. The two made much harder contact, destroying the right-front of his machine. Cindric climbed from his car in the infield grass, done for the day. Bell made it around one more time before going to the garage, leaving him 39th. Jones recovered to finish 10th.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were 38th-place Gray Gaulding, whose last-minute entry broke the rear gear heading down the backstretch. 37th went to Michael Annett, whose #5 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet lost the splitter when he slid into the grass on Lap 107. 36th-place Brandon Brown had a strong run early, but his new #86 / Coastal Carolina University Chevrolet was collected in the day’s biggest multi-car accident on Lap 122.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #60 in an XFINITY Series race since May 9, 2008, when Carl Edwards’ #60 Scotts Water Smart Ford started on the pole, then crashed out after 3 laps of the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at the Darlington Raceway. Roush-Fenway’s #60, made famous by Mark Martin and Greg Biffle, has finished last just six times. The number has never trailed at Daytona.

40) #60-Austin Cindric / 10 laps / crash
39) #20-Christopher Bell / 11 laps / crash
38) #54-Gray Gaulding / 82 laps / rear gear
37) #5-Michael Annett / 106 laps / crash
36) #86-Brandon Brown / 121 laps / crash

1st) Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

1st) Ford (1)


TRUCKS: Travis Kvapil’s engine lets go early at Daytona

Travis Kvapil picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #50 Rhino Rush Energy Chevrolet fell out with engine problems after 2 of 100 laps.

The finish, which came in Kvapil’s 196th series start, was his first in a Truck Series race since March 28, 2015, when his #1 Bubba Burger / Kioti Tractors Chevrolet busted the rear gear after 83 laps of the Kroger 250 at the Martinsville Speedway. In the LASTCAR Truck Series rankings, it’s the 8th for #50, the 344th for Chevrolet, and the 124th by reason of engine failure. Among the top three series, it’s the 30th for #50, the 1,575th for Chevrolet, and the 1,049th by reason of engine failure.

The 2003 Truck Series Champion rejoined team owner Mark Beaver, who has fielded trucks for Kvapil off and on for the last four years. The two first worked together under the banner of MAKE Motorsports, which last year became Beaver Motorsports after co-owner Tracy Lowe parted ways to form TJL Racing. Kvapil made two of his five starts last year in Beaver’s #50, finishing 24th at Daytona and 29th at Martinsville, before Josh Reaume took over for much of the remainder of the season. For their Daytona reunion, new sponsorship came from Rhino Rush Energy Drink.

Kvapil was one of 36 drivers to take time in qualifying. He was one of three drivers to not participate in Thursday’s opening practice, then ran 33rd of 35 in the afternoon session and 20th of 26 in Happy Hour. In qualifying, he ran a lap of 170.898mph (52.663 seconds), second-slowest behind B.J. McLeod, a late replacement for J.J. Yeley in TJL Racing’s #1 Motorsports Safety Group Chevrolet. Regardless, Kvapil’s 2003 title locked him into the field with the Past Champion’s Provisional, securing him the 32nd and final starting spot. McLeod failed to qualify along with Bobby Gerhart in Mike Mittler’s #63, Josh Reaume in his own #33, and Cody Ware in Mike Harmon’s #74.

When the race began, Kvapil took the green in last, but by Turn 3, he’d climbed past Jennifer Jo Cobb in her #10 Think Reality Chevrolet. Cobb then passed Jordan Anderson, who debuted his own team and his #3 Jacob Companies / Toyota. Anderson held last place at the stripe, three seconds back of the leader. By the next time by, Anderson moved past Premium Motorsports’ #15 Troptions Chevrolet, driven by new full-timer Robby Lyons.

On Lap 3, Lyons was still trailing the pack while Kvapil had climbed from last up to 27th. Running the middle lane, Kvapil’s #50 suddenly erupted in smoke, sending the six trucks behind him scattering. The following pack managed to avoid wrecking while Kvapil moved his slowing truck to the apron, drawing the first yellow of the night. Kvapil pulled behind the wall under the yellow, done for the night. He was officially classified “out” on FS1’s ticker by Lap 17.

31st went to Jennifer Jo Cobb, who took the hardest hit of the night when she struck the inside wall off Turn 4 and erupted in flames. Cobb climbed out, but was favoring her arm, leading to a stay in the infield care center that lasted the rest of the race. Bo LeMastus’ first run in the #54 DGR-Crosley Toyota ended in a multi-car accident on the ensuing restart, followed by 29th-place Chris Fontaine with electrical issues on his #47 Glenden Enterprises Chevrolet. Rounding out the group was Parker Kligerman, who suffered right-front damage to his #75 Food Country USA Chevrolet, then cut down a right-front tire and smacked the outside wall.

*This marked the first last-place finish for truck #50 since October 3, 2015, when Tyler Tanner’s turn in Beaver’s #50 Landworks Solutions Chevrolet ended with ignition trouble after 5 laps of the Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas. The number had never before finished last in a Truck Series race at Daytona.

32) #50-Travis Kvapil / 2 laps / engine
31) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 54 laps / crash
30) #54-Bo LeMastus / 63 laps / crash
29) #47-Chris Fontaine / 65 laps / electrical
28) #75-Parker Kligerman / 66 laps / crash

1st) Beaver Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


Friday, February 16, 2018

PREVIEW: More entry list updates from Daytona SpeedWeeks

PHOTO: @BiltMotorsports
With the release of the Truck Series and XFINITY Series entry lists, this week’s weekend preview will feature updates since the announcements from our previous feature.

Friday, February 16, 2018
TRUCKS Race 1 of 23
NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Tommy Joe Martins

The current entry list shows 36 trucks for 32 spots, meaning that four teams will miss the show. This is six fewer than this race last year, when 42 drivers arrived to attempt the field.

DRIVER CHANGE: #1-TJL Motorsports
Jordan Anderson, who drove for TJL last year, has entered his own team, the #3 of Jordan Anderson Racing. In his place will be J.J. Yeley with backing from the Motorsports Safety Group. UPDATE: B.J. McLeod qualified the #1 in place of Yeley.

DRIVER LINEUP: #4, #51-Kyle Busch Motorsports
David Gilliland leads off Kyle Busch Motorsports’ team at Daytona, driving the #4 Toyota sponsored by Pedigree. Driving the #51 will be Dawsonville, Georgia’s Spencer Davis, looking to make his series debut in the #51 JBL / Sirius XM Toyota. The team’s third truck, the #46, isn’t entered at Daytona.

RETURNING: #6-Norm Benning Racing
Norm Benning is back in his #6 Chevrolet, and eyes his first Daytona start since 2015, when he finished 14th.

NEW TEAM: #7-All Out Motorsports
The first of nine new Truck Series teams slated to make their debut in 2018 is All Out Motorsports, owned by Doug George. Driving the #7 Tru Clear global Toyota is Korbin Forrister, who rain a pair of races last year for SS-Green Light Racing with a best finish of 31st at Michigan.

RETURNING: #8, #87-NEMCO Motorsports
While John Hunter Nemechek prepares to share a ride with Kyle Larson in the XFINITY Series, he is once again running his #8 Chevrolet in the Trucks alongside his father Joe in the #87. Both trucks will carry sponsorship from Fleetwing.

RETURNING: #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
Owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb is back at Daytona in her #10 Chevrolet with Think Realty as sponsor. Cobb ran 18 of 23 races last year, but didn’t start any of the opening three rounds. Like Norm Benning, the last time she took the green at Daytona was in 2015, when she finished 18th.

Jim Rosenblum’s FDNY Racing has traditionally run the plate races, Charlotte, and Pocono exclusively. This year, they return to Daytona, looking to bounce back from a DNQ last year. Just like last year, the team has tabbed Bryan Dauzat to drive the #28 FDNY / American Genomics Chevrolet. Dauzat, age 58, finished 33rd in last Saturday’s ARCA race. UPDATE: It has since been reported that Friday will be Rosenblum's final NASCAR start as an owner, closing a career dating back to 1983.

NEW TEAM: #33-Reaume Brothers Racing
While the entry list shows Maury Gallagher as the team owner of Josh Reaume’s #33 R-Coin Chevrolet (following the #33 that Kaz Grala drove for GMS last year), the truck will actually mark the debut of a two-car team, Reaume Brothers Racing. Reaume makes the move from Beaver Motorsports’ #50, which he drove for most of last season. A second truck, the #34, will join the effort later this season.

RETURNING: #47-Chris Fontaine
Restrictor-plate specialist Chris Fontaine returns to the superspeedway with longtime sponsor Glenden Enterprises on his Chevrolet (after running Toyotas last season). Fontaine finished 22nd in this race last year.

RETURNING: #50-Beaver Motorsports
Mark Beaver’s single-truck team ran 24th last year with 2003 series champion Travis Kvapil, and the pair have returned to Daytona this year. With Josh Reaume tending to his own team, it’s likely Kvapil will run more races than the five he did in 2017. The team's Daytona sponsor is Rhino Rush Energy Drink.

David Gilliland’s two-truck effort also makes its debut at Daytona with support from Kyle Busch for the team’s Toyotas. The #54 hits the track first with ARCA Racing Series regular Bo LeMastus slated to make his NASCAR debut. The 55-year-old LeMastus from Louisville, Kentucky finished 31st in last Saturday’s ARCA opener. The team's #17 truck is expected to join the effort later in 2018.

RETURNING: #63-MB Motorsports
Mike Mittler remains the series’ longest-running Truck Series owner, and has again fielded a #63 Chevrolet for ARCA legend Bobby Gerhart. Gerhart, who was shuffled out late in the ARCA race for a 12th-place finish, will carry longtime sponsor Lucas Oil on the truck.

RETURNING: #68-Clay Greenfield Racing
Clay Greenfield is back in his own #68 AMVETS / Please Stand Chevrolet, looking to replicate his successful 8th-place run in his most recent start last fall at Talladega.

RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
The Chevrolet fielded by XFINITY Series owner-driver Mike Harmon is entered, and Cody Ware was announced as driver on Wednesday.

RETURNING: #75-Henderson Motorsports
Driver turned broadcaster Parker Kligerman showed flashes of brilliance last year in his limited Truck Series and XFINITY Series efforts. At Daytona, he rejoins Charlie Henderson, the longtime NASCAR team owner who earned his first Truck Series win - and his first NASCAR victory since 1989 - with Kligerman behind the wheel at Talladega. The driver now aims for his second-straight plate race win.

DRIVER CHANGE: #83-Copp Motorsports
D.J. Copp enters his second season as a Truck Series team owner and has put Scott Stenzel behind the wheel of his #83 E2 Northeast Motorsports Chevrolet. Stenzel looks to make his first Truck Series start since 2014, when he ran seven races for MB Motorsports.

DRIVER CHANGE: #02, #20-Young's Motorsports
Randy Young and Bryan Hill's twin white Chevrolets are back. The team has brought aboard Scott Lagasse, Jr. for another of his yearly attempts to run in the Truck and/or XFINITY opener. Sponsorship for Lagasse's #20 comes from the American Cancer Society. Austin Hill is entered as his teammate in the #02 Chevrolet.

MISSING: #99-MDM Motorsports
One of the most notable teams missing from this year’s list is MDM Motorsports, which broke through with their first win (though encumbered) with Darrell Wallace, Jr. at Michigan. This team was one of many collected in the Lap 2 accident that marred the start of the 2017 race, handing them a last-place finish. The team is expected to return this year, according to the current Owner Points chart.

MISSING: #0-Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing
MISSING: #36-MB Motorsports
MISSING: #57-Norm Benning Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb has not, as yet, entered her second truck, the #0, which made 12 races this year. Also missing are the second entries belonging to MB Motorsports (#36) and Norm Benning Racing (#57), which were also used to help fill fields last year. The missing #57 is curious as last year’s driver Mike Senica has made several Twitter posts, including him in a new driver’s uniform.

CUP INVADERS: #4-David Gilliland

Saturday, February 17, 2018
XFINITY Race 1 of 33
PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: David Starr

The preliminary entry list shows 46 drivers for 40 spots, meaning that six drivers will go home after time trials. That’s a two-car increase from the 2017 running, which had two withdrawals to get it down to 44.

RETURNING: #15-JD Motorsports
After it was originally announced that JD Motorsports would not be entering their fourth car, the #15, until next week at Atlanta for Matt Tifft, the car is entered this weekend with NASCAR veteran Joe Nemechek behind the wheel. Nemechek drove for JD in the last two races of 2017, finishing 35th at Phoenix in the #15 and 27th at Homestead in the #01. Flex Tape will sponsor the car.

RETURNING: #25-ACG Motorsports
Chris Cockrum is back along with the Advanced Communications Group team led by Jeff Spraker. Cockrum eyes his first XFINITY Series start since last September at Chicago, where he finished 30th. He ran 28th in this Daytona race last year.

UPDATE: #35-SS Green Light Racing
Joey Gase’s return to the XFINITY Series will be under the Go FAS Racing banner, but it will be fielded by SS Green Light Racing, which also is entering Spencer Boyd’s #76 Grunt Style Chevrolet. A similar arrangement was done between SS Green Light and B.J. McLeod Motorsports last year, when they coordinated the #99 Chevrolet driven by David Starr.

NUMBER CHANGE: #36, #90-DGM Racing
Mario Gosselin’s DGM team (King Autosport) retains a two-car lineup in 2018 with the former #92 now the #36 to be driven for the entire XFINITY season by defending NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion Alex Labbe. Labbe has three XFINITY starts to his credit, most recently at Charlotte last May, where he ran 33rd. Most importantly, he has the Owner Points of the ##3 from Richard Childress Racing. He’ll be teamed at Daytona with Josh Williams, last year’s driver of the Gosselin #92, who this year drive the primary #90.

UPDATE: #38, #39, #93-RSS Racing
The rest of the RSS Racing trio was revealed this week. Jeff Green, already announced to make his return to the team, will once again drive the #38 Chevrolet he and Gray Gaulding helped debut last fall. At Daytona, the car will carry sponsorship from Night Owl Contractors, Inc. Driving the #39, once the team’s primary car, will be J.J. Yeley, who makes the move from TriStar Motorsports and attempts double-duty with the Truck Series. And, no, there will be no “start-and-parking” at Daytona – all three will attempt the full race.

NUMBER CHANGE: #40, #66-Motorsports Business Management
Carl Long’s XFINITY Series team returns to action in 2018 with both of its cars. The #13 is now the #66, matching the team’s Cup Series car number, and will have Timmy Hill driving at Daytona. The #40, running the same number as last year, will see Chad Finchum behind the wheel, and has Owner Points from the #48 of Chip Ganassi Racing, Brennan Poole’s old ride.

SPONSOR UPDATE: #52-Jimmy Means Racing
Whataburger, one of David Starr's sponsors from last year, has signed with his new ride for Jimmy Means at Daytona.

RETURNING: #54-NXT Motorsports
The new NXT Motorsports team (formerly NextGen Motorsports, which debuted late last season), has tabbed Gray Gaulding to attempt double-duty with the 500. The Toyota will be sponsored by VSI Racing.

RETURNING: #74-Mike Harmon Racing
RETURNING: #89-Shepherd Racing Ventures
Amid the many team and driver changes over the offseason, both owner-drivers – Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd – are back again in 2018.

MISSING: #14-TriStar Motorsports
Now starting their second Cup Series season, TriStar Motorsports has suspended operations of their XFINITY Series team after eight seasons and a best finish of 4th by Jason Keller at Talladega in 2010. The Owner Points have moved to the new #55 team of JP Motorsports, which obtained several Toyotas from TriStar.

MISSING: #33-Richard Childress Racing
The Owner Points of this team moved to the #36 of Alex Labbe for DGM Racing.

MISSING: #48-Chip Ganassi Racing
The Owner Points of this team moved to the #40 of Chad Finchum for Motorsports Business Management.

CUP INVADERS: #3-Austin Dillon, #18-Daniel Suarez, #22-Joey Logano, #42-Kyle Larson, #88-Chase Elliott, #98-Aric Almirola

Sunday, February 18, 2018
CUP Race 1 of 36
Daytona 500 at Daytona
2017 Last-Place Finisher: Matt Kenseth

Still 40 cars for 40 spots – barely. TriStar Motorsports struggled to get their #72 for Corey LaJoie to the garage in time for sign-in day, and according to Bob Pockrass, arrived overnight just hours before the Saturday morning deadline.

The all-white #23 Toyota was unloaded in the Daytona infield without a driver’s name above the door, but on the night before his 20th birthday, Gray Gaulding was tabbed to drive. He arrived at the track in his uniform from last fall and prepared to drive. The team has remained on the edge all week – the car didn’t practice until the final two minutes of the opening session, couldn’t get through the engine phase of technical inspection and couldn’t qualify, sending him last in his Duel. Hours before the Duels, it was announced that BK Racing had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but is still looking ti keep the team going through its reorganization.

STILL MISSING: Landon Cassill
The second-most surprising spectator of this year’s SpeedWeeks behind Austin Theriault, the defending ARCA Racing Series Champion.

Car #66 holds the record for the most last-place finishes in Cup Series history with 51, five more than any other number. The most recent came with Timmy Hill at Dover last fall. The number’s first last-place run at Daytona came in the 1978 Daytona 500, when Harry Gant lost the engine after the opening lap. It was the first of Gant’s ten career Cup last-place finishes. Mark Thompson runs the number in the Daytona 500 this Sunday.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

CUP: Aric Almirola’s debut with Stewart-Haas Racing ends in bizarre accident in Duel Race 1

PHOTO: @dwmangum
Aric Almirola finished last in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #10 Smithfield Ford was collected in a three-car accident after 8 of 63 laps.

Late last season, it was reported that Smithfield Foods would end their six-year relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). The sponsor would follow Almirola, the team’s driver, to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he’d replace Danica Patrick as driver of the #10 Ford.  RPM would soon hire Darrell Wallace, Jr., who relieved Almirola following his back injury at Kansas, attracting piecemeal sponsorships for 2018.

Almirola started SpeedWeeks fourth-fastest among the Fords in opening practice (18th overall), then jumped to 13th in Sunday’s qualifying session with a lap of 193.386mph (46.539 seconds). The speed lined Almirola up 7th in Duel Race 1, alongside fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney.

Starting last in the Duel was David Ragan, who didn’t turn a lap in qualifying in Front Row Motorsports’ #38 Speedco / Love's Travel Stops Ford. Just moments after the green flag dropped, however, David Gilliland was already losing touch with the pack in Ricky Benton’s #92 Black’s Tire Ford. Soon to join him was polesitter Alex Bowman, whose #88 Nationwide Chevrolet pulled to the outside and was nearly collected by several drivers as he dropped to the rear. On Lap 2, as the field poured down the backstretch, Gilliland passed Bowman and gapped him by two-tenths of a second. Bowman and Gilliland joined Brendan Gaughan, Jeffrey Earnhardt, and Justin Marks in a five-car pack that trailed the rest of the field. With exactly 40 cars for 40 spots, nobody would not be sent home after the Duels, likely the reason that this group stayed in the back.

At first, the plan worked. The accident that sent Aric Almirola to the rear began with 6th-place runner Jimmie Johnson. Still shaking off his seventh-straight wreck in The Clash on Sunday, Johnson felt a vibration in his #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet entering the tri-oval. Johnson pulled low, only to lose control at the exit of the corner with a flat left-rear tire. His car cut right, directly into the path of Almirola. The collision stuffed Almirola’s Ford into the outside wall, and it dragged against the fence into Turn 2. Both Johnson and Almirola were towed to the garage with the trailing Almirola classified last. Daniel Suarez, who suffered minor right-front damage after trailing the pair, continued on in the race.

Despite the small field, the rest of the Bottom Five was filled by accidents. William Byron’s first competitive laps in Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Axalta Chevrolet ended in almost the same spot as his teammate when he lost control at the exit of the tri-oval and nosed into the outside wall. 17th went to David Gilliland, who caught back up to the field, only to crash when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. cut to his inside in Turn 1. Rounding out the group was Brad Keselowski, whose #2 Discount Tire Ford made a bid for the lead with three laps to go, but crossed the nose of a closing Jamie McMurray, stuffing him into the fence.

*This marked just the second time in the history of the Can-Am Duels where car #10 finished last. The other time occurred in Race 1 in 2004, when Scott Riggs crashed out in MB2 Motorsports’ #10 Valvoline Chevrolet after he slid into the Turn 2 wall.
*This was Almirola’s first last-place finish in a Can-Am Duel.

20) #10-Aric Almirola / 8 laps / crash
19) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 8 laps / crash
18) #24-William Byron / 38 laps / crash
17) #92-David Gilliland / 47 laps / crash
16) #2-Brad Keselowski / 57 laps / crash

CUP: Kyle Larson ensnared in backstretch pileup in Duel Race 2

Kyle Larson finished last in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel Race 2 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident after 11 of 60 laps.

Larson’s career-best four-win season in 2017 came to an abrupt end in the season’s final weeks when an engine failure at Kansas knocked him out of an almost assured spot in the Championship Four. It also proved to be the sixteenth and final season that Target sponsored Chip Ganassi’s full-time Cup effort, bringing to a close one of the longest active owner-sponsor partnerships both in NASCAR and in open-wheel racing. In its place came Credit One Bank, which not only sponsored the final lap on NASCAR’s television broadcasts, but backed both Ganassi cars as an associate last year. Among the other brands signing on was DC Solar, coming over from Ganassi’s shuttered #48 team in the XFINITY Series.

Larson’s new blue-and-white Camaro ranked 10th in opening practice, but slipped to 22nd in qualifying with a lap of 192.238mph (46.817 seconds). The lap put Larson 11th on the grid for Race 2.

Starting last in Race 2 was Gray Gaulding, whose BK Racing team has provided one of SpeedWeeks’ most unusual stories. Reports of the team’s financials difficulties were confirmed just hours earlier when the team filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The team’s impending reorganization did not prevent them from preparing a single #23 Toyota, which arrived at the track last Friday without sponsorship – or a driver. On the night before his 20th birthday, Gaulding was tabbed to drive, and returning team sponsor Earthwater joined the team in time for the race. Like David Ragan in Race 1, Gaulding didn’t turn a lap in qualifying, though in Gaulding’s case it because the car’s engine failed technical inspection. Prior to the Duel, Gaulding ran just one lap in opening practice, which came in the session’s final two minutes.

On top of it all, Gaulding incurred a redundant pre-race penalty for unapproved adjustments, the same penalty handed to Matt DiBenedetto in the #32 Can-Am / Wholey Ford. Both cars had been re-wrapped between qualifying and the race, which may have been the adjustments noted by NASCAR. Also sent to the rear was 18th-place starter Mark Thompson, who missed driver intros for his first-ever Duel race. This ended up putting Thompson on the outside of the last row with Gaulding to his inside.

At the start, Thompson pulled ahead of Gaulding, but by the second corner, the two were locked in a side-by-side battle with Gaulding holding the bottom. By the third corner, Thompson had pulled back in front, though both were already a half-second behind the rest of the field. Gaulding, meanwhile, was 1.2 seconds behind Thompson on Lap 3, approaching more than nine seconds behind the leader. By the sixth circuit, Thompson and Gaulding were part of a four-car trailing pack similar to that in Race 1. Joining them were D.J. Kennington’s #96 Lordco / Castrol Toyota and the #72 Schulter Systems Chevrolet of Corey LaJoie.

On Lap 12, Gaulding had held last for the entire race, and was now 37.650 seconds back of the leader, three seconds back of Thompson. As with the trailing pack in Race 1, Gaulding was saved from losing a lap when trouble broke out among the leaders. Contact between Chase Elliott and Erik Jones coming off Turn 2 sent Jones into a spin, causing the rest of the field to check up. Among them was Larson, who was racing DiBenedetto near the back of the lead pack. DiBenedetto crossed Larson’s nose, hooking him into the outside wall. An instant later, Larson was turned into a spin, further damaging his own car. DiBenedetto managed to drive up to the entrance of pit road before stopping while Larson was towed from the backstretch. Gaulding stayed out to lead a lap during the ensuing yellow.

With Larson and DiBenedetto locked into the final two positions, the rest of the race ran caution-free. Gaulding and Thompson were among the first to lose a lap near the halfway mark, and both made pit stops. Gaulding came in first, and returned nearly two laps down. Thompson came in next, and after falling a third lap back, the Motorsports Business Management crew decided to pull the #66 Phoenix Air Ford behind the wall. Gaulding ended up five laps down, pulling his car onto pit road a second time as the leaders took the white flag. LaJoie rounded out the Bottom Five, two laps down, and on the same lap as Kennington in 15th.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #42 in the Duels since 2007, when then-rookie Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 Texaco / Havoline Dodge fell out with suspension issues after 24 laps of Race 2. As in Race 1, this was the only other time the number finished last in the event.
*This marked Larson’s first last-place finish in the Duels.

20) #42-Kyle Larson / 11 laps / crash
19) #32-Matt DiBenedetto / 11 laps / crash
18) #66-Mark Thompson / 32 laps / vibration
17) #23-Gray Gaulding / 55 laps / running / led 1 lap
16) #72-Corey LaJoie / 58 laps / running

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie experienced tremendous highs and lows at Daytona

McDuffie lines up next to Dale Earnhardt's #3 at Daytona's
filling station, 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
It’s well-known how significant a win in the Daytona 500 can be. But, as the season’s richest race, merely qualifying for the event can be a boon to the sport’s smallest teams. This was certainly true of J.D. McDuffie.

McDuffie made twenty-three starts in what is now the Can-Am Duels, and qualified for fifteen Daytona 500s. His first SpeedWeeks came in 1969, when he fielded the only Buick on the circuit. An 18th-place finish in the first qualifier scored him 36th on the grid, and he finished 39th when the engine let go short of halfway. He finished last in Race 2 of the 1970 qualifiers – steering issues after four laps – for his only last-place finish in the event. He never finished last in the Daytona 500.

Prior to the accident which took McDuffie’s life, the most serious accidents of his career both happened during SpeedWeeks. In the 1975 Daytona 500, the #70 slowed behind a pileup on Lap 4, but veered hard to the right and smashed head-on into the outside wall. The wreck left him with a fractured breastbone, among other injuries, and kept him in the hospital for more than two weeks. Then, in Race 2 of the 1988 Twin 125s, a collision with two other cars caused his Pontiac to burst into flames. His gloves stolen before the race, McDuffie spent even longer in the hospital, this time with third-degree burns to both hands.

McDuffie’s best finish in the Daytona 500 came in the famous 1976 race. Seven laps behind Richard Petty and David Pearson as they tangled for the win, McDuffie came home seventh. It was not only redemption for his serious crash in the race a year earlier, but was worth $11,260 of the race purse. It was the most he’d earn for a 500 finish until 1982, when an 11th-place finish earned him a track-best $15,235. He also participated in a single “Consolation Race” in 1984, a last-chance qualifier to make the 500 field. After starting outside-pole, he took the lead on Lap 2, but finished 4th of 25 drivers, narrowly missing the cut.

In his final nine attempts, McDuffie made the Daytona 500 just three times. In 1983, he drove an unsponsored Pontiac to a 22nd-place finish in the 35-car grid of his qualifier, squeezing him into the 500 field as the 37th starter out of 42. He finished 29th that day, out with engine trouble. In 1987, with added support of businessman Tom Winkle, he ran 18th out of 30 in his qualifier, putting him 38th on the 42-car grid. This time, he finished under power, 25th at the line, nine laps down to Bill Elliott. His final 500 start came in 1989, when he raced his way in. One year after suffering his burns, McDuffie avoided serious damage in a grinding multi-car accident to finish 15th out of 30 drivers. He lined up 29th and finished 24th, seven laps down, in Darrell Waltrip’s lone 500 win.

Though reaching the close of his career, McDuffie made these three starts despite huge entry lists. 29 drivers were sent home in 1983, including Morgan Shepherd and Rusty Wallace. 19 drivers missed in 1987, including Donnie Allison. Another 19 missed in 1989, including Kyle Petty and Jimmy Means. Petty ended up buying Eddie Bierschwale’s ride while Means’ sponsor Alka-Seltzer jumped on Buddy Arrington’s unsponsored Pontiac driven by Mickey Gibbs.

McDuffie made both qualifying races in 1990 and 1991, but finished just 25th and 21st, respectively. He was one of 19 DNQs in 1990 and one of 16 in 1991. His final qualifier was slowed by one caution, though he managed to finish on the lead lap in the event for the first time in a decade.